Like the rest of the world, we’ve been working from home for most of the year. And largely, it’s been going pretty well … maybe even better than expected.
Our team is collaborating well via a suite of tools that we’ve always been using but now depend on more than ever.
Pre-pandemic, we only had one full-time remote employee (me!), but even that (and working with occasional remote contractors and dev teams) meant that we were more or less set up for remote communication when WFH became the new normal.
Switching from in-person work to remote work is (like most things) a combination of having the right people, the right attitude and the right tools. Cultivating the right team and attitude is a complicated process, but picking the right software tools doesn’t have to be.
With that in mind, here are the tools we use every day to enable our agency to collaborate remotely.
Email & Calendar: Google’s G Suite
It’s hard to find a reason not to use Google’s G Suite. We’ve been using it for over a decade, and it keeps getting better.
Most of our employees use the (very good) webmail interface + mobile (primarily iPhone) devices. A few still use Apple Mail. In either case, Google’s email and calendar tools just work, work well and allow for really unsurpassed search capabilities.
The pricing’s competitive, and adding users is really, really easy. Because we have some pretty technically literate employees, G Suite lets us get away without having a real IT department or contract.
Video Conferencing: Google Meet
So, Zoom took the world by storm, but then had some trouble related to unauthorized access, etc. At the same time, Google’s Meet / Hangouts / whatever they’ll call it next week video conferencing platform just works.
And, shortly after the pandemic hit, Google added some long-overdue feature updates that really make it on par with any other video conferencing solution.
One standout reason to use it? Google’s fantastic real-time transcriptions.
Are they 100% accurate? No. Here, for example, is what Google transcribed when Carl said “vacation early.”
But, even that was unusual enough that it prompted a screenshot to share in our Slack channel, and the transcriptions certainly pass the “accurate enough to be useful” bar. The other day, I was in a meeting with a participant on a sketchy cell connection, and while I couldn’t understand what they were saying, Google could — and transcribed them in real time.
Pair the transcriptions with the tactiq.io chrome extension, and you can automatically save a transcription of every meeting to Google Docs.
Finally, Google Meet integrates well (obviously) with Google’s calendars. Schedule a meeting in Google’s calendar, and it automatically gets a meet link. Easy-peasy.
Slack’s become the de-facto business chat app for a reason. It’s easy to use. It just works. It integrates with basically anything.
If I were a business starting from scratch with a new userbase, I might be tempted to check out some self-hosted, open-source alternatives like Keybase, Mattermost or others, but it’s hard to make a case for switching over when Slack works so well and is used by a decent chunk of our clients.
File Storage & Sharing: Box
For years, Echo-Factory ran on some kind of local NAS — basically, locally available network storage that was easy to access from the office, and often possible to access slowly from remote locations.
We’d been looking for ways to move to either cloud or hybrid-cloud storage for a couple years, but never found the ideal solution, or made the jump.
When the pandemic forced us to jump, we landed with Box.
Its pricing is reasonable, its storage is unlimited, it integrates well with almost every other tool we use, and sharing docs with clients or contractors is pretty seamless.
The almost caveat refers to Google Docs. They’re supported, but really unintuitive and a bit hokey.
Apart from that, Box is great and almost certain to stay as our go-to solution once we’re allowed back into the office.
One of our favorite features is versioning. Almost everyone has probably seen file names like “TheDocument_v3_5_final_Proofed_FINAL_ACTUALLYFINAL.doc” in a folder with 20 predecessors. Box lets you save over previous versions and easily recall their predecessors if you need to. Files can have a single name, not 20.
Project Management: Wrike
There is no perfect project management tool. But Wrike is pretty darn good.
In the 13’ish years we’ve been operating, Echo-Factory worked with three different tools. We’ve been on Wrike for a few years now, and it’s the best. Or, at least, it’s the best for us.
Happy Hour: TBD
The greatest WFH-related Echo-Factory loss from the pandemic? Our conference-room kegerator filled with beer from Last Name Brewing.
We’ve tried virtual happy hour, but it’s just not the same.
Still, no one ever said that working from home would be a 100% seamless experience.